'Turkey furious over alleged IAF foray'

Israel denies getting protest from Ankara over Syria flight; IAF fuel tanks allegedly found near border.

September 9, 2007 01:20
4 minute read.
'Turkey furious over alleged IAF foray'

olmert hanegbi 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])


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Despite official Turkish expressions of concern that an alleged IAF flyover in Syrian airspace early Thursday could escalate regional tensions, Israel received no formal protests from Ankara over the weekend, Israeli and Turkish diplomatic officials said Saturday night. Reuters, quoting a diplomatic source in Ankara, said Turkey asked for clarification after two fuel tanks were found near its border with Syria. The jettisoned fuel tanks, pictures of which were carried in the top-selling Hurriyet newspaper, were found soon after Damascus alleged that Israel had violated Syrian airspace Wednesday evening. The paper said the fuel tanks belonged to Israeli F-15I planes sent to gather intelligence. A Turkish diplomatic official said that Ankara had made no requests that its embassy in Tel Aviv file a protest over the incident with the Foreign Ministry, and he said that if clarifications were sought, which he could not confirm, they would have gone through military channels. A senior Foreign Ministry official said the ministry was not contacted by Ankara about the incident. Damascus has said that Israeli jets broke the sound barrier flying over northern Syria before dawn Thursday, then "dropped munitions" onto deserted areas after being shot at by Syria's air defenses. The Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, continued its policy of absolute silence on the matter, and would not even comment on statements made Friday by Science and Technology, Culture and Sports Minister Ghaleb Majadle, the first cabinet minister to discuss the incident. Majadle told the Nazareth-based A-Sinara newspaper that IAF planes entered Syrian airspace on a daily basis, and that he did not believe the latest alleged incident would spark a war. Majadle said that while he had no specific information about the matter, it was likely that "the planes either entered Syrian airspace to take photographs or in error." Majadle's statements, which will likely be discussed at Sunday's cabinet meeting, earned a rebuke from Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Hanegbi, in an Israel Radio interview, said, "The minister should show more restraint with his words." He said it was unacceptable for Majadle "to speak to the media on matters unrelated to his office." Regarding the tension surrounding the alleged incident itself, Hanegbi said, "Israel and Syria don't have an interest in conflict, and the United States, along with Arab countries, are making sure not to cause unnecessary tension. "All sides are interested in calming the situation," Hanegbi continued. "The IDF response was not at all aggressive. The Syrian media has dropped the issue. Russia and Iran responded to the incident out of obligation, but didn't take the matter to the [United Nations] Security Council." Hanegbi said Israel's silence regarding the incident was coordinated with the US. In Washington, the US State Department also has had no specific comment on the incident, citing the lack of details about what happened. The Syrian government's newspaper accused the US on Saturday of encouraging Israel's reported violation of Syrian airspace by remaining silent on the issue. "This new Israeli hostile operation was a coordinated effort of Washington and Tel Aviv," the Tishrin newspaper said in a front-page editorial. US silence can only be interpreted as an "overt and scandalous encouragement of Israel," it said. "How could a superpower call for the establishment of peace and send invitations to some countries to convene a peace conference at a time when it maintains silence over a clear violation of the simplest laws and international norms?" Tishrin said in its editorial on Saturday, referring to the US-sponsored meeting on the Middle East scheduled for later this year, to which Syria is not expected to be invited. The newspaper also criticized Arab countries for planning to attend the proposed conference. "How can they go to Bush's conference and how can they justify to their people shaking hands with those who kill Palestinians and Iraqis and threaten the Arabs' future with grave consequences?" it said. Meanwhile, Arab countries continued denouncing the yet-unconfirmed IAF flight over Syria as unprovoked. The Arab League announced that the alleged incursion of IAF planes into Syrian airspace was intolerable. Arab League chief Amr Moussa said that "the unbearable move" revealed negative Israeli intentions for the Middle East meeting scheduled to take place later this year in the US. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that Israel's aerial violations overnight Wednesday added to regional tensions. Also Friday, Syria accused Israel of jeopardizing the chances of success in the upcoming US-sponsored Middle East meeting. Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Ja'afari told Al-Jazeera that the alleged IAF operation came only a few hours after Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo had published a message of support for the meeting and had called for Syria to be invited. A Syrian government newspaper warned that the country "possesses the means to respond... so that it will deter Israel against proceeding with such unpredictable adventures." The Syrian government is considering a series of responses, according to statements made by Syrian Vice President Farouk Shara in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that was released Saturday. The Syrian response will come quickly, he added. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem after the alleged overflight to offer support and condemn Israel's actions, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported Friday. This latest report surrounding the mysterious incident comes only a day after IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said that the winner and loser of a future war will have to be made very clear. "In any future conflict forced upon the State of Israel, there will be a need to ensure that it is known who lost and who won," he said. Ashkenazi made his comments during a meeting with high-ranking reserve officers on Friday and made no connection between his statement and the latest fears surrounding a war with Syria.

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